Quality interview from the April 2 edition of The Jim Rome Show with Trail Blazers starting center Robin Lopez. In the interview, Lopez talks about his birthday celebration, which ride at Disneyland is his favorite, naming all Seven Dwarfs, fitting in as a Portlander, doubting himself after a back injury in Phoenix, the Goonies and being “weird as hell.” There’s also a little basketball in there as well. Lopez also answers a question about Tiger Woods needing a discectomy that I’m fairly certain Lopez misheard as “vasectomy” given the nature of his answer.
It sounds like you had an amazing birthday. You got a double-double, you beat the Lakers, Emmy Rossum was sitting courtside and you went to Disneyland. Was that the best birthday you’ve ever had?
It’s up there. It’s up there. I haven’t had any other celebrity show up on my birthday, so I think it’s going to have to be number one for right now.
It sounds like you had a day. Let me ask you about Disney, because I know you’re a big Disney guy. What is your favorite ride?
Pirates of the Caribbean, no question.
Break that down for me. Why do you like that best?
I think that’s the best example of everything that Disney does so well. The attention to detail, the storyline, everything coming together in perfect synthesis.
I’ve got to think that Team Space Mountain is going to be furious about that. What would you say to them?
It’s up there. I don’t want them to take that comment too hard. Space Mountain has a place in my heart, too. I love Space Mountain. It’s a little rough on me though. I’m kind of tall so it’s a little rough on the knees, but hey, I love it though.
Well said. So the team gets off to a hot start but has been a little up and down since then. But you have won four in a row. Do you feel like you’re playing the type of ball you want to be playing heading into the postseason?
I do. I actually feel, right now, we’re playing the best ball of the season. We’re very focused on both ends and we haven’t really played like this in the sense there have been so few lulls throughout the past four games. Even when we were playing really well, we would play teams pretty close. We would let team back in games, we would have to play from behind. But the past four we’ve been in control for the most part of the game.
It seems like you’re a perfect fit for Portland, not just on the court but off it, almost to the point that it feels like you’ve been there forever, when in reality, you were just traded there last summer. Did you know at the time how good of a match this was going to be?
It’s funny, when I was playing in Phoenix, Channing Frye, who had been in Portland, told me if I visited there, if I went there, I was just going to love it. And I was a little reluctant to believe him just because Channing talks a lot of stuff. But it turns out he’s been 100 percent right. I can’t believe how perfectly the fit has been. It’s a bizarre city, I’m weird as hell. It’s a match made in heaven.
We talk about this almost every single day on and off the air: weird is good. Weird is different. As you look back over your career, who are some of the weirdest guys you’ve played with?
Channing would definitely have to be one of them. I love that guy. He’s into comics just as much as I am, weird movies that you’ve never heard of, all kinds of stuff like that. He holds an annual kickball tournament in Portland every year. My vet was Shaq, and that’s a cool guy but he’s also weird.
Speaking of movies, you were the only Blazer who could name all Seven Dwarfs. How much does it disappoint you that some of the other guys couldn’t even name one?
It is a little heartbreaking. When my contract comes up I’m definitely going to have to search around the league and find that kindred soul who can name all seven. I think that’s going to be a huge breaking point for me.
They couldn’t dig deep? They can’t get Grumpy?
I know, it hurts. I don’t really want to think about it, honestly.
I won’t bring it up again. From a basketball standpoint your coaches, your teammates rave about your game and your attitude and how much better you’ve made them. Terry Stotts has been doing some lobbying for you as the league’s most improved player. You’re not a guy looking to hype yourself but what does that mean to you to hear that from your coach and your teammates?
That gave me so much confidence to go out there and even play better. That’s a beautiful thing about the situation I’m in in Portland. I feel very comfortable, I feel like I have complete freedom out there. And in that situation it’s easy for me to perform.
Was it like that in Phoenix?
It was, but I think it’s different when you’re one or two years in the league. With that injury I wasn’t quite as sure of myself, I lost eight inches off my vertical. It was a combination of factors in Phoenix. I just didn’t have my mind right.
Did you really lose eight inches off your vertical?
Yeah, that’s true. When I had the bulging disk and pinched nerve in my back, I just lost all of my athleticism which, back then especially, was a huge component of my game, couldn’t run up and down the court as quickly. I remember one moment specifically. My third year in preseason I caught the ball off one of Steve’s (Nash} passes and and saw, I think, Tyler Hansbrough under the basket. And I was like “Oh, I’m going to dunk this. I’m going to put him in a bucket.” And I went up and he pinned it right against the backboard and I’m like “What’s going on?”
That’s got to mess with your head, right?
Yeah. There were moments, especially right after the injury, where I was like “Am I not as good? Am I bad at basketball?” It is tough. That said, I had good teammates around me, I had people, good support staff keeping my head up. I just tried to keep working at it.
Nothing against Psycho T — I guess it’s one thing if Dwight Howard does it — but if Psycho T does that maybe it causes to question yourself a little bit. You mention a back and a pinched nerve. Maybe your situation is not the same, but when you see Tiger Woods and what he’s dealing with right now and he needs a discectomy and he swings a golf club for a living, what do you think he’s dealing with physically?
You know, I’m not sure. Unfortunately I’ve never had that many women throw themselves at me, so I don’t think our situations are really comparable.
I don’t think anybody has. The year is so long and when things aren’t going well you’ve got to find a way to deal with it. You had a great tweet after a loss to Charlotte. You wrote “Rough one tonight but got to focus on the next one and Goonies on ABC Fam right now. Never Say Die. Rip City.” Is watching Goonies one of the secrets to getting over a tough loss.
Oh, yes. For sure. There are a lot of good life lessons in that movie. Obviously The Goonies stick together, people don’t always believe in them but they never give up, never say die.
Before you go, who is your favorite Goonie?
My favorite Goonie has to be Data or Mouth. First of all, I think Mouth is definitely Wesley Matthews of our team. Data is probably Nic. I think Mikey would have to be LA because he’s the heart of the team. I would be Chunk.
I was going to say, I thought you were a Chunk guy.
Yeah. Oh, I love Chunk. He claims he saw Michael Jackson, that scene where he’s talking about he’s in a movie theater and he started throwing up and making everybody else throw up. That’s classic stuff right there.
What about Bran?
Bran, that’s rough. Might be Coach Stotts.
How about Sloth?
Sloth? Oh man, I don’t know if I want to put Sloth on anybody. Might be Joel Freeland.
You’ve got an interesting relationship with a number of mascots around the league. It seems like guys don’t want to deal with it or think about it, but you have relationships. How did that start?
You know, it started because I was getting a little abuse from mascots and I really didn’t want to be that guy that was just taking that sitting down, laying on my back. I knew at some point I had to start fighting back. I don’t know if it’s the hair, I look a little goofy, sound a little goofy but i was just a bull’s eye for mascots, So I was like, enough of that, I’m going to go on the aggressive. That doesn’t make grammatical sense, but I think you get the gist.
Makes sense to me. Did that start with the mascot in Detroit? Was that the first time? You guys got into it once.
That’s happened before but that’s the first time that I had to respond. I wasn’t going to take that from him.
UPDATE: The team has officially announced that they have matched the Nets’ offer sheet to Allen Crabbe, though a “formal announcement” and Crabbe actually signing the contract will not occur until later in the week.
After finishing up their pursuit of new free agents, the Trail Blazers have wasted little time in turning their attention to the free agents on their own roster. After reportedly signing restricted free agent power forward Meyers Leonard to a four-year deal, the Trail Blazers, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, have matched the four-year, $75 million offer sheet the Brooklyn Nets tendered to third-year guard/forward Allen Crabbe, ensuring that the former Cal Bear will be back in Portland next season…
The Portland Trail Blazers have matched Allen Crabbe’s four-year, $75M offer sheet with Brooklyn, league source tells @TheVertical.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 10, 2016
Nets bid on Crabbe has been thwarted — and Crabbe returns to Blazers on four-year, $75M contract. Now, Nets wait on Tyler Johnson sheet.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 10, 2016
The message out of Portland ownership and management is clear: Blazers trying to win this year and beyond — loading up on this roster.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 10, 2016
As is often the case when it comes to restricted free agents, the Nets offer to Crabbe, who has averaged 7.0 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game through three season, was considerably larger than many assumed the 6-6 wing would receive in an effort to discourage the Trail Blazers from matching. And after the Trail Blazers signed free agent guard/forward Evan Turner to a four-year deal, some assumed that combined with the size of the Nets offer might result in Trail Blazers letting Crabbe walk.
But that would not be the case. Crabbe has been a favorite of the front office and coaching staff since the team acquired former Pac-12 Player of the Year via trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2012 Draft. And though he played sparingly in his first two seasons, he saw his minutes increase dramatically in 2015-16, as he appeared in 81 games and responded with averages of 10.8 points on 44 percent shooting and 39 percent shooting from three, 2.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists while serving as one of the team’s best perimeter defenders.
There were rumors that outside of the money and years, Crabbe, who has typically come off the bench for the Trail Blazers, was intrigued by the opportunity to start and play a larger role with the Nets. But for his part, Crabbe seemed more than satisfied that he would be returning to Portland…
— Allen Crabbe (@allencrabbe) July 10, 2016
With Crabbe now signed, forward Maurice Harkless is the last Blazer still available on the free agent market. Like Crabbe, Harkless is a restricted free agent, which gives the Trail Blazers the right to match any offer he receives from another team. It is also possible for the Trail Blazers to sign Harkless even if he doesn’t receive an offer sheet from another team, as they have reportedly did Sunday with restricted free agent power forward Meyers Leonard.
UPDATE: The team has officially announce that they have signed Meyers Leonard to a new contract. From the press release…
“Meyers is a core member of our organization and continues to show the promise and potential we anticipated when we drafted him,” said Olshey.
Leonard averaged career-highs with 8.4 points (44.8% FG, 37.7% 3-PT76.1% FT), 5.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 21.9 minutes in 61 games (10 starts) in 2015-16. He missed the final 14 games of the regular season due to an injured left shoulder.
“Today is a day which is hard to describe. I’m overcome with happiness and joy,” said Leonard. “I’m thankful for the people who have remained loyal and loving in my life. This is the product of a lot of hard work and time. I feel like I have found a new gear mentally and physically and really am excited for the next four years. The future is going to be bright with this team.”
The Trail Blazers and Meyers Leonard sat down at the negotiating table prior to the start of the 2015-16 season in an effort to hammer out a new contract in an effort to keep the 7-1 power forward from hitting the (restricted) free agent market. Despite mutual interest, the two sides were unable to strike a deal, though considering the Trail Blazers had the right to match any offer Leonard received as a free agent, it always seemed likely he’d be back even if terms on an extension couldn’t be reached.
As it turns out, an offer sheet from another team wasn’t needed for both sides to ultimately come to an agreement.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, Leonard and the Trail Blazers have agreed on a new four-year deal worth $41 million…
Leonard, a restricted free agent, has built his value as a stretch four with an ability to spread the floor and deliver a presence on the defensive boards.
Leonard is part of a core expected to compete for 50 victories in the Western Conference this season.
Leonard, 24, missed the final 20 regular-season games with a left shoulder surgery in 2015-16, but has shown steady improvement in the past two years after being selected at No. 11 overall in the 2012 NBA draft.
The reported four-year deal is roughly the same as the offer the Trail Blazers reportedly extended to Leonard prior to the start of the 2015-16 season. At the time, it was reasonable to assume Leonard might receive a larger offer from another team, as his combination of size, athleticism and shooting are highly sought after in today’s NBA. But missing the final 20 games of the regular season and the entirety of the playoffs after undergoing surgery on his left shoulder, not to mention the widely-held assumption that the Blazers would match any reasonable offer for Leonard, likely cooled interest from other teams. And though he didn’t say it explicitly, it always seemed as though Leonard’s preference was to continue his career in Portland after being selected by the Trail Blazers with the 11th overall pick of the 2012 Draft.
“I was drafted here, I’ve been with Terry (Stotts) the entire time, Neil (Olshey) obviously drafted me, being here with now our franchise player Damian (Lillard),” said Leonard back in March. “So the future is bright here and I truly hope that I can be a big part of it.”
Leonard returns to a big man rotation that features Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh and Festus Ezeli, who signed with Portland as a free agent on Friday.
While Trail Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey said the team is done chasing new free agents for the year, whether restricted free agents Maurice Harkless and Allen Crabbe, who received an offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets worth reportedly $75 million over four years on Thursday, return to Portland next season is still to be determined. The team has until 9 pm Sunday night to decide whether or not to match the offer made to Crabbe.
Typically in NBA free agency, it’s the duty of the team to woo the player they’re interested in signing. Seeing as how there are only so many free agents to go around every year, the competition between teams to acquire their preferred players can often times be intense. The Clippers all but locking center DeAndre Jordan in a house last year in order to prevent him from signing with the Mavericks being the most recent example of the lengths teams will go to in order to obtain or retain their respective free agent targets.
But some free agents are easier to convince than others. And sometimes, they don’t need any convincing. Such was the case with center Festus Ezeli, who signed a two-year deal reported to be worth $18 million, widely considered a ridiculous bargain in the 2016 free agent market, Thursday night. While the interest between Ezeli and the Trail Blazers was obviously mutual — shoring up the team’s interior defense was one of the main goals going into the offseason — it sounds like in this case, it was the player who initiated the negotiations, something that is a rarity in the era in which some free agents seem to relish the opportunity to be wined and dined by teams desperate to secure their services.
“My agent contacted and I said ‘I want to be a part of this franchise’ because, like I said, I see a bright future of this team,” said Ezeli Friday morning during his introductory press conference at the team’s practice facility in Tualatin. “It doesn’t come very often when you have such talented guards like CJ (McCollum) and Damian (Lillard) and such a complete team with everybody else. I know Al-Farouq (Aminu) just from playing with Nigeria, being around with the African scene, the African community works, I’ve known him through that. But I know that this team is full of high character guys and that’s a great start in itself, work ethic and all those things. I see good things happening here, I want to be a part of it.”
Having played for the Golden State Warriors during his first three seasons after being selected with the 30th overall pick of the 2012 Draft, Ezeli knows a little something about what a team needs to be successful. And having matched up against the Trail Blazers on numerous occasions, the most recent being the series between his former and current teams during the 2016 Western Conference playoffs, and seeing how they performed, competed and the way they were supported, Ezeli entered his own free agency thinking Portland might be the place for him.
“First of all, this organization is first class,” said Ezeli. “We played them in the playoffs so I’m pretty familiar with them playing in the West as well. I got to see a lot about the team’s character in those moments in battle on the court and that’s where you get to know the other team’s strengths and weaknesses. Their chemistry was something I really admired on the court. Second thing, the fans. I noticed when we came out here the fans were unbelievable. We take pride in our fans and as a basketball player you love your fans so when I saw that, saw the energy, I wanted to be a part of that. Great team, great coach, great fans. What more could you ask for from an organization?”
For the Trail Blazers, a team that has historically had a difficult time luring free agents, acquiring a player so enthusiastic about coming to Portland must have been a welcomed surprise, but it’s not as if a willingness to sign on was enough. There still had to be a need on the roster, which was luckily for both Ezeli and the Trail Blazers.
“He’s coming from a very good defensive system in Golden State,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “His defensive rating in Golden State on an exceptional defensive team was outstanding, one of the best on the team. So he’s going to have an impact for our team, whether it’s in pick-and-roll, whether it’s defensive rebounding, whether it’s altering shots at the rim. He’s athletic, he has a long wingspan. In today’s NBA, particularly with the plan of playing Farouq (Aminu) more at four, he’s going to give us the ability to play a smaller lineup and still have a defensive component to it… I think his presence in the paint on the offensive end is going to cause problems as well. Team’s won’t be able to switch pick-and-rolls. So I think he’s going to have a positive impact on both ends of the court.”
Much like the rest of Portland’s roster, Ezeli still has room to grow, especially considering he didn’t even pick up basketball until he was well into his teens. And he has had surgeries on both knees in the last two years, which is likely to give some pause (especially considering the history of the franchise) despite Ezeli saying he’s “100 percent healthy and ready to go.” But to acquire a player with Ezeli’s experience and skill set on a great value contract who also seems legitimately excited to play in Portland seems like an unmitigated success.
“I have to go home and kind of sit with my family and try to figure some things out, decompress a little bit, but I’m excited,” said Ezeli. “I love this city, I love the people so far and I hear there’s a lot of great food over here, so I can’t wait to get to that. I’ll be back later this summer, I’ve got to go figure out the whole moving situation, but I’m excited.”